The government brief for this Review was that Sir Ron Dearing and his team should advise on how the existing system of post‐16 qualifications might be revised in order to encourage greater parity of esteem between General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A level) and parallel vocational and pre‐vocational routes. The brief included a government admonishment that A levels should not be discarded or undermined. The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, writing to Dearing on 10 April 1995, instructed him that ‘Our key priorities remain to ensure that the rigour and standards of GCE A levels are maintained.’ This proviso made any radical overhaul, such as the introduction of a baccalaureate system, out of the question. The Committee was also tasked with suggesting ways to build on development in National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs); to increase participation and achievement; to prepare young people better for work and for higher education; and to ensure value for money. Dearing himself described the purpose of the Review as being one of breaking down barriers between academic and vocational courses and thereby promoting parity of esteem between the two.
Describing the scale of the task, Dearing pointed out on page 1 of the Review's published report that, ‘In spite of action taken by the government to bring clarity into the structure of vocational qualifications, the world of education and training between the ages of 16 and 19 remains intelligible only to specialists.’ The proposals which emerged from the Review included the following: